Catholic Priest Raped Disabled
Woman - Hush Money Paid
By Frank Walker
The Sun-Herald


A disabled woman who said she became pregnant after being raped by a Catholic priest had to sign a secrecy clause before the Church would pay her $15,000 compensation.

The deal, authorised by a NSW bishop last month, contradicts Sydney Archbishop George Pell's statements that victims were not prevented from discussing such abuse.

The legal agreement for compensation between the woman, from rural NSW, and the Church bars her from talking about the incident.

It bars her relatives or advisers from talking, and Church employees and agents are also bound by silence.

If she did talk, the document says, she would have to repay the $15,000. @media print {.nopr {display:none}}

Dr Pell has said victims are not prevented from discussing the abuse they had suffered. Yesterday, the Church spent about $100,000 on advertisements in newspapers across Australia apologising to sex abuse victims.

In the ad, Dr Pell and Melbourne's Archbishop Denis Hart said compensation payouts were not an attempt to buy silence.

"Victims are not silenced as a condition for receiving counselling or compensation," they said.

The Church's policy on handling compensation for abuse by clergy - called Towards Healing - states that no victim will be required to sign an obligation of silence.

But the legal document the woman had to sign states the victim and the Church diocese agree "each of them will not make any report or comment or communication of any type in relation to the claims, this Deed or any of the matters referred to herein".

"Each party must use their best endeavours to ensure that none of the employees, servants, agents, officers, advisors, relatives, spouses or partners disclose any information," it says.

The secrecy clause does not stop the woman from talking to police.

She is angry, feeling it is an effort by the Church to hide the extent of sexual abuse by clergy. She fears the Church may take away the $15,000 she got just a few weeks ago if she talks.

Documents obtained by The Sun-Herald reveal that the Catholic Church offered the woman assistance soon after she became pregnant in 1983.

She said she had been raped by a priest and had become pregnant. She said it was her first sexual experience. She did not feel well enough to bring charges against the priest and approached the Church for help.

Church lawyers said the Church was not legally liable and if she tried to seek recompense through the courts, the only person liable was the priest, who had no money.

The lawyers said the Church felt a "moral obligation" and was prepared to offer assistance. It would meet pre- and post-natal expenses and consider "reasonable and adequate" maintenance for the child.

But no agreement was reached and the matter lapsed for 18 years.

(After the child was born, the woman proved paternity and the priest paid child support. Later he left the priesthood. In 2000, the woman tried again to get compensation, through the Towards Healing program.)

The Church offered $15,000 to settle the matter provided she sign the agreement. That was signed last month and she got the money.

But she is angered Dr Pell is telling the public there are no secrecy clauses in the compensation agreements. "The reality is it is hush money," she said.

Dr Pell tried all week to backtrack on his comment on TV last Sunday that there was a requirement that victims did not talk once a payment was made. He said victims did not want the publicity and "it was shameful for the Church".

He later said he wanted to correct that, declaring the agreements contain no confidentiality restrictions and "anyone who accepts a compensation payment is free to disclose the details if they wish".

But the agreement the woman had to sign last month contained very strong silence restrictions.

Although bishops sign off on compensation deals in their own diocese, Dr Pell is responsible for implementation of Church policy across NSW. The head of the Towards Healing program, Sister Angela Ryan, was angry that a secrecy provision was forced on the NSW woman.

"It is totally against the spirit of Towards Healing," she said.

Sister Ryan said the clause must have been inserted by lawyers who finalised the settlement and she would "definitely" take action to stop them in future.

"We need to look at where this process is being taken apart as it is not the intention of Towards Healing," she said. "They cannot insert anything which stops the person talking about the abuse, going to the media or whatever they want to do."

She acknowledged that the reality might be somewhat different.

Chris MacIsaac, president of victims' support group Broken Rites, said the effect on victims of sexual abuse who were forced to keep silent was very damaging.

"They see it as blood money," he said. "They feel they have taken 20 pieces of silver from the Church.

"The effect of that can undo all the work that therapy or the settlement process tried to achieve.

"They feel they can't tell anyone about what happened to them, which makes them feel as though they are at fault in some way.

"Many cannot form proper relationships as they are keeping a terrible secret which by law they cannot reveal.

"Clearly, the reality of what the Church is doing with secrecy deals in compensation is very different from what they say officially. We get reports of these secrecy provisions from all over Australia.

"The Church is trying to keep a lid on the true extent of the scandal of abuse by the clergy."

How the Church bought silence

The wording of the secrecy clause used in NSW revealed in The Sun-Herald today appears to be the model for the Catholic Church's other compensation payouts.

Identical wording appears in a document produced by a Melbourne woman who fell pregnant to a priest at 15 and who received $75,000 from the Church.

The Advertiser newspaper in Adelaide quoted the document as saying the woman "must not make any report or comment or any communication of any type in relation to the claims".

· In Brisbane, the husband of a woman who was the victim of torture at the Catholic-run Neerkol Orphanage at Rockhampton said she had been prevented by a confidentiality clause from disclosing the paltry $6,000 settlement she got in 1999.

Colin Farquar, 76, said his wife Mary had been among 18 victims who launched a class action against the Sisters of Mercy and the Rockhampton diocese.

But in 1999 the elderly claimants signed an out-of-court settlement that included a confidentiality clause.

· In Tasmania, a victim was prevented from talking about her horror because she had had to sign a confidentiality clause.

Hobart's Archbishop Adrian Doyle said the Church gave convicted pedophile and now retired priest Paul Anthony Connolly, 66, a Toyota Camry sedan last year after he served part of an eight-month jail term.

Archbishop Doyle said he had a responsibility towards Connolly as retired clergy in his archdiocese.

The Church confirmed it had included a confidentiality clause in the compensation deal. The victim, in her mid-40s, refused to discuss the case with The Mercury.

· A man sexually assaulted in the 1970s as a 14-year-old altar boy by a Christian Brother told Melbourne's Herald Sun the Church had bought his silence after the Bishop of Ballarat awarded him $50,000 last year.

He was a victim of Brother Edward Vernon Dowlan, a pedophile jailed for almost 10 years after pleading guilty to 16 charges of indecently assaulting 11 boys aged nine to 13 from 1971 to 1982.

Under the settlement deal, the victim is prohibited from writing or speaking about his ordeal, the compensation or the process.

"It's hush money," he said.